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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingSeptember 19 - September 25, 2018
The State of Florida is investigating Marlin Financial, an online auto loan company, for saddling desperate consumers with much more debt than expected, apparently breaking the law in the process, according to a newspaper investigation. Image: Malena Carollo, Tampa Bay Times.

Florida Investigating [b]Marlin Financial

A customer needed $10,000, and didn't have much time to get it. The quickest way was to take out a loan against his car, and Marlin Financial, an online auto loan company, helped him do that, wiring the cash within a few hours.

What the customer didn't know was that something he'd felt forced to agree to as part of the loan cost $25,000, making his debt more than $35,000. He defaulted on the loan when his monthly payments ballooned because of the extra charge, and his Jaguar was repossessed within a few weeks.

As a result of this and similar cases, Marlin Financial is the subject of a consumer protection investigation by the Florida Attorney General's office.

The company is accused of saddling desperate consumers with much more debt than expected, apparently breaking the law in the process, according to an investigation by a local newspaper.

Marlin has approved loans that are larger than it is licensed to make. Its debt cancellation policy can push its interest rates over Florida state limits. It has failed to give customers an opportunity to take belongings from repossessed cars.

The Florida Office of Financial Regulation, which licenses lenders, said it received 12 complaints against the company in the past four years. The Florida Attorney General's office received 19.

The Better Business Bureau recorded 32 complaints against Marlin's Florida operation.

Marlin declined to answer questions about its business practices and would only address questions about specific cases. As of Sept. 14, it had not responded to questions.


Sheriff’s Office Retrieves Repo’d Gear

The Bexar County (Texas) Sheriff's Office said it finally retrieved a county-issued AR-15, ballistic vest and radio from the trunk of a SWAT team member's vehicle that was repossessed Sept. 7.

The SWAT officer, who is not facing any charges or disciplinary action, had his vehicle repossessed from an apartment complex and had his county-issued gear in the trunk of his vehicle.

The Sheriff's Office said that after two days of unsuccessfully trying to get in contact with the owner of the lot, they made contact and retrieved the equipment Sept. 9.

"Internal Affairs is looking into the issue surrounding the repossession," said Elizabeth Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office.

The equipment was secured in the trunk of the vehicle and the vehicle was taken to a secure lot.

Sheriff's policy states that county-owned firearms shall not be stored in motor vehicles except in very unusual circumstances. BCSO Internal Affairs is investigating this incident.


Man Steals Tow Truck [b]During Repo

Police say a man who was upset about his car being repossessed decided to take matters into his own hands in Huber Heights, Ohio, on Sept. 13.

Police say just before noon, a company was repossessing the man's car in North Heights Shopping Plaza. The repo agent told police while hooking the man's car up to his truck, the man jumped into the driver's seat of the tow truck and took off. The man didn't get very far and when he stopped, jumped out of the tow truck and took the agent's cellphone with him.

Officers chased after the suspect who they say tried to hide. Police ended up catching up to the man, whose identity had not been released at press time.


Texas Man Arrested for [b]Assault after Repo

A Bryan, Texas, man was arrested Sept. 4 after police say he attacked the owner of a car dealership with a tire iron.

According to police, officers responded to a car lot on North Texas Avenue around 3 p.m. after receiving a report about a man with a baseball bat.

Police spoke with Dexter Lamar Pope, 32, who told police that he had been inside the business to make a complaint after his girlfriend's car was repossessed and some of his belongings were inside the vehicle. Pope said the owner of the business had attacked him with the bat he was now holding.

Police spoke with the owner, who said Pope had come into the office, picked up a tire iron and wielded it at the owner. The owner said he had grabbed the bat and extended it in an attempt to put distance between himself and Pope. According to a police report, Pope eventually reached the victim and punched him. A customer from the lobby successfully pulled Pope off the man, and Pope punched the customer in the face, police said.

A security video supported what the owner and customer told police, according to a report.

Pope was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and assault causing injury, punishable by up to a year in jail. He is being held in the Brazos County Jail on $15,200 bond.


CFPB Identifies [b]Deceptive Practices

Recent auto loan servicing examinations conducted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found fraudulent and unfair practices related to billing statements and wrongful repossessions, the bureau announced Sept. 6.

The wrongful acts were publicized in the CFPB's Supervisory Highlights report. While the report does not impose any new legal requirements, publishing the findings serves as a move toward the consumer watchdog's efforts to make financial companies more compliant. The report is the first since acting director Mick Mulvaney took over in November 2017.

Specifically, the bureau found that servicers were sending billing statements with incorrect monthly payment dates, causing consumers to miss payments and become subject to late fees, delinquency notices or adverse credit reporting.

Also, the bureau's examinations found that some servicers purposely failed to cancel repossession orders, incorrectly coding accounts to remain delinquent.

The bureau didn't disclose how many or which servicers were called out for unfair practices, but stated that "the servicers are stopping the practice, reviewing the accounts of consumers affected by a wrongful repossession, and removing or remediating all repossession-related fees."


Man Charged for August Agent Assault

A Lancaster, Pennsylvania, man has been charged with simple assault and unlawful restraint following an altercation with a repo agent, according to police.

The incident occurred Aug. 9 outside of 43-year-old Lester St Valle's residence.

While the victim was in the process of lawfully repossessing St Valle's Toyota Camry, he allegedly entered into the tow truck and began throwing the victim's belongings out onto the ground — including the keys to the truck, police say.

Police allege that St Valle then ripped the victim's t-shirt to shreds and held him down, forcing the victim to lower the Toyota off of the lift.

Police add that the victim was allowed to gather his things, which had been thrown on the ground once St Valle's Toyota was back in his garage.

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